These kids today

This is how people older than 35ish refer to young people they don’t understand. It is usually followed by some kind of insult about how they are too sensitive, too stupid, too lazy, etc. Sure I think it is kind of funny when a young kid looks at a cassette tape or rotary phone and doesn’t know what it is. It allows us old folks to be nostalgic about our own childhood. But the insults and the put downs need to stop, instead we need to start changing the was we think.

In my 37 years on this planet we have seen a staggering, exponential growth in technology. There is no way that children born after 2000 aren’t wired completely differently that us older folks. For thousands of year even when there were technological, medical, or industrial advances they were not on a level that would completely change our brain chemistry.

As we built the education system in our country we based it around the agricultural calendar so that children can help their families with farming. When it was possible and a school was big enough we started separating children by their ages. It was an easy to to assess what they should know and when they should be taught it. This worked for a very long time. Even when the agricultural industry became more of a business with better equipment and hired help instead of family help the system still worked well so it wasn’t changed.

Today the whole system needs to be rethought and it needs to happen soon. The longer we wait the more students fall through the cracks and so many already have. When we look at the basics of the current education system, things like the structure of the day, the year and the way we separate children need to be changed drastically. We need to ask ourselves why schools are structured this way and if our only answer is “because it always has been” then it needs to go!

The one overarching problem I see time and again is retention. Our students cannot retain the information that is being taught. We need to ask ourselves why and what we can do to help. We have known for years that our students are falling far behind in basics math, reading, and critical thinking skills. We like to sit back and blame parents and technology. I guess we could blame technology but it isn’t going away, in fact it is only getting better. So we need to then think about not just how we use technology but what these technological advances mean to our children.

We need to realize that age is becoming increasingly arbitrary. We need to isolate the real skills that children of today and of a technologically advanced future truly need to learn. Then we have to set them up to master these skills and build on their prior knowledge. I have heard time and again (and I have thought and said these things as well) “How can they not know this? They have been learning it over and over since middle school” If that is true (and it really is) then there has to be some kind of break down in how they are getting or being held accountable for the information.

I don’t have any idea how to start this revolution but I am starting to see what the answer are; the way we group students, the hours of the school day, the structure of the school year, and the way we assess and therefore advance students needs to change.

I will tackle my ideas on each of these issues in the following weeks. Stay tuned!! Also I would love your feedback!

The Marathon Has Started!

Kicked off another school year! I love being a teacher and I worked a lot this summer on new things for this year. I really miss the students during the summer. This year is a year of a lot of change but not the most I’ve seen in 1 year. I feel like I have finally made it over the “newbie” hump.

So far the flex seating is going pretty well. I think I like the bean bag chairs the least. In the next few weeks I will be deciding if I am keeping them or not. The rest of it is great though. The students seem to love it and my room feels so comfortable. I love the yoga balls the most probably.

I hope every else is having a great beginning too!!

My Inquiry Journey

When I was working on my Master’s degree in education I had a really great teacher. He really stressed inquiry and project-based/problem-based learning. Since then it has been really difficult to find any solid professional development to teach me how to implement it effectively. Well you know me, I started trying things on my own.

I didn’t really start until the end of my second or third year of teaching. I had a really hard time engaging my students and I thought that if they could do an experiment that they chose it would help. This is how my journey started. It went pretty well so I repeated it every year at the end of the year.

The problem was that I was not in a teaching environment that allowed me much time to fully reflect on my teaching and how certain things are working. When I moved to my latest school I finally had that environment. My first year there I did a lot of “you pick something related to this topic and do an experiment” and it worked out OK. But something still was not right.

I finally realized that I needed to start out my freshman with this at the beginning of the year, not the end, and that it was OK to guide them a little more. I have done a lot to perfect my methods and I am happy to continue to move forward. I am still looking for some good professional development but now I have people helping me look so hopefully I will get there.

In the meantime check out my scientific method full inquiry unit on TPT. There is a site wide sale if you like what you see 🙂 sale ends 8/7/19

Inquiry Unit

Build it UP!!!!

As we are all about to embark on a new school year I have been doing a lot of talking with colleagues and participating in discussions in facebook teacher groups. We are all pretty excited but also sad to see summer go. One of my favorite saved facebook posts is about how we are all great moms no matter how we parent. Unlimited screen time / strictly limited screen time, breast fed / bottle fed, and so on and so on. No matter how we do it we are all great moms. Well we are all great teachers too!

I like organized chaos others like complete control, we are all great teachers. I try new things all the time others have already perfected their techniques and don’t like to try new things, we are all great teachers. Some come in early and stay late others adhere to only their contracted hours, we are all great teachers. I could go on and on and on. No matter how we do it, as long as students are engaged and learning, we are all great teachers!!

As we start to get our rooms ready to meet our new students take a moment to remind someone else in the building why they are a great teacher!! Included is a picture of the new arrangement of my classroom.

Don’t know what I don’t know

This is becoming such a prominent phrase in my life. I love to try new things but it is so much easier when someone else has tried them first so I at least have some idea of what to expect. I am embarking on a few new adventures here and I am nervous but hopeful.

First of all there is the flexible seating classroom. I don’t really know a lot of teachers, particularly high school science teachers, that have tried this. I am super excited about it and I truly think that it will increase engagement and that it works very well with my style of teaching. However, every time I show people the room or show people pictures their faces says a lot! The most common reaction is “I can’t wait to see how this works out.” I have pretty much heard that from every single person that I have shown the room to. I know most, if not all, of them are in my corner and rooting for me, but I also am feeling an ever increasing pressure to succeed because their faces say “You are crazy this will never work”. I might also mention that I tend read into things way more than I need to so who knows. But as the year draws closer I am getting more nervous. I still think it will be great but I don’t know what I don’t know and I DO know that there will be issues that arise that I never even imagined. I just need to be brave and work through it.

The other big adventure is my teachers pay teachers store. I completely failed at Etsy and I think a big part of that was I don’t know what I don’t know and my style just not being very popular. So here I am again trying to put my stuff out there. I know it is good stuff because I have seen it work. However, I don’t know what I don’t know. This time I have some good teachers and people that are willing to give very concrete and constructive criticism. Will it work in the end? Who knows. Will I ever sell one thing? God I hope so, but who knows.

Also there is this blog. I want to get more people to interact with me and read it but I can’t seem to do that. I probably really need to figure out pinterest. But hopefully eventually with enough out there people will start responding.

The moral of the story is that even though I don’t know what I don’t know I’m going to try anyway! Wish me luck!!

Curriculum Development

Developing curriculum is one of the most important things we do as teachers. Sometimes when you get hired into a teaching position there is already a curriculum in place and you don’t have a lot of choice. But more often that not there is either no curriculum or you will be on a team that is developing curriculum at some point.

Personally, for the most part, I think this is fun. We get to take our guidelines, we call them standards, and we figure out the best way to teach them. It is really helpful to know your community but of course you have to know your content. A good team is also key.

We are currently doing this for one of the science classes where I teach. It is the first time I have ever been on such a collaborative team. Honestly, it is the first time I have ever really had a team. Mostly it has just been me, doing my best, by myself.

There are definitely pros and cons to working on a team. I mean sometimes your idea is not the best and sometimes you don’t agree on what is best. Sometimes one person wants to do all the work and sometimes there are people that don’t want to work at all. We all kind of know this. Being by yourself though can be even more stressful. You try your best but in the back of your head you know that there are things you are missing and have no one to talk to about your ideas.

Best case is that you are on an amazing team. Well after today I realized how lucky I am. We worked like a well oiled machine once we had our tasks. We talked though all of our ideas, discussed best practices, and started working on next steps. My team is amazing and I hope all teachers can have this experience at some point in their career.

I would love to hear your curriculum planning stories! Please share them with me.

Aversion to Education

Why are people so averse to being life long learners? Social media has really brought this to my attention. Whenever I am scrolling through Facebook and come across some article that seems not quite right, or is something I don’t know a lot about but want to know more, I do a little research. Also, when I want to post about a controversial topic I make sure I understand it first.

I see a lot of posts from people about things like women’s health rights and racism. Social media gives people an outlet to pretty much say whatever they want with very little consequence. As a result I will frequently get into heated arguments with people about their level of education on a topic.

People get very insulted when you suggest they learn more about something they are not educated on. There are a LOT of topics that I am very uneducated on and either I don’t post about it, I post questions, OR I go out an learn more about a topic before I post something. I don’t understand how people can go through life without ever questioning their thoughts or feelings.

In the past I would get into fairly meaningless heated arguments and I knew it did no good. Now I suggest avenues for that person to educate themselves and I do it very sweetly. I always try to be friendly and kind because I know that many people post things from a place of hate and anger and I want them to reexamine that.

I think if there is one thing I want to really pass along to my students, I want them to be life long learners in every aspect of their life. If someone seems to know more about something than you do embrace it and learn from them. If you are passionate about a belief and someone challenges it look into their point of view and learn about it. That doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs or agree with the person but educating yourself on other perspectives breeds love, ignorance breeds hate. We have enough hate in this world, we need more love.

Flexible Seating

Flexible seating is kind of a new teaching trend. Teachers take the traditional desks (or most of them) out of the classroom and replace them with more comfortable seating options. Pretty much anything you can imagine depending on the teacher’s taste and the age of the students. I just got the green light to do it in my classroom!!!

I am really excited because I feel like the traditional desks are not really working for me. Students are really good at knowing how to disengage in those desks for may reasons. First, all of the teachers in my building have some sort of traditional classroom seating. Either traditional individual desks or small tables. This makes it easy for them to just go from class to class kind of feeling the same way.

Second, and one of my biggest hurdles, is that students have become really good at hiding things behind their book pile (like cells phones). I have tried several ways to get students to put away their phones during class and so far I have not had any long term success. My cell phone station worked for a little while but then students just stopped using it. I wanted it to just be the honors system because I don’t want to have to take the time to track who has their cell phone in the station or get the “oh I left mine in my locker” story. This year students will not be able to have anything with them at their seats except their chromebooks. I will have some storage stations so they can still bring their other stuff if they need to.

My challenge is that I am a science teacher. I feel like flex seating lends itself really well to an English or Social Studies class where there might be a lot of independent reading. Like a nice little library feel. At first I was really thinking “can I make this work in science?” then of course I thought why not?

I set up a donors choose for a few things but I am having a lot of luck with donations and I will be hitting up garage sales the next few weekends too. One of my other worries was cost. If I can get my donors choose funded I think I will be set! I also moved recently and purchased new furniture so I am going to use some of my old stuff and some old stuff from family.

Turns out it isn’t really as daunting as I first thought it would be and I think it will really fit my teaching style well. I know there will probably be some hurdles in the beginning and some classes will take to it better than others but here I am always trying new things! I will post pictures as soon as I have it all set up. Wish I could get my hands on that butterfly chair in my picture!!!!

Have you tried flexible seating? Leave me a comment with your story and pictures!!

Fearless Teaching

I have realized over the years that I am a very different kind of teacher. Perhaps because I am a science teacher and we are all a little strange. Many of my colleagues are much more rigid in their practices. This is not at all a bad thing. My colleagues are amazing teachers. They are very organized in every aspect of their teaching. They know exactly what every day holds, have very consistent rules and classroom management, and very clear and concise expectations.

All of these things are key to being an excellent teacher. All of these things work so well for them. They have classrooms that are well oiled machines and every day is full of meaningful learning. But I have noticed that many of them are scared to try new things. I totally get it!! Why fix something that isn’t broken?? Maybe the correct answer is don’t. Maybe these teachers will never need to change anything. I’m a little different.

I don’t know if I get bored easily or if I just always feel like I could do better and never really feel like I have perfected anything but I am always trying new things. I noticed how different I was when our school went 1:1 two years ago. While there were several hiccups in the beginning that were pretty annoying many teachers still (two full school years later) are pushing back and not wanting to use the 1:1 resource.

This post is NOT about whether or not technology is good or bad or how we should use it. I believe that answer is different for every subject and every teacher. However, I know that my fearless nature has made my life a million times easier. It only takes being OK with failing in front of the students. Just this one thing (failure) has really transformed the learning environment in my classroom.

One thing I always tell my students is that failure is the best way to really learn. You HAVE to be able to fail in order to learn the correct way. Many things in science are a process and just memorizing terms is not enough to really learn the critical thinking skills necessary to be successful. Failure is a big part of any scientist’s career.

The first year we implemented the 1:1 technology I decided I was going to learn everything I could so I could decide what works and what doesn’t. We were trained on the learning management system a few days before the school year started and didn’t have a lot of time to learn all the details before the year started. That means I had to try things with my students as the school year progressed. I was nervous. I didn’t want to look like an idiot in front of the students but I also wanted to learn the system.

That is when I realized I needed to practice what I preach to the students. At the beginning of the year I explained that this new system was as new to me as it was to them and we were going to go on an adventure. And so we did. I have tried so many different things the last two years and failed in front of the students so much that I came to realize the more I “fail” the more willing they are to fail. The more I ask for their feedback when I try something new, the more willing they are to ask for my feedback when they are trying something new.

As a result I am making my classroom environment a lot more tailored to student-centered science learning. I still have a strong classroom management backbone, clear and concise expectations, and rules and procedures. I could not function without that. But I have now transitioned into an environment where students trust me more and are willing to fail to learn. It may seem like chaos to some but it is organized and meaningful chaos and it is working for us!

Diversity – This is a Long One!

Wow has my view on this topic grown over the years. I have always considered myself pretty open minded. I never thought of myself as racist or insensitive or ignorant of social justice issues. I mean I had “black friends” and “Hispanic friends”. I went to a semi-diverse high school and I got along with everyone. I mean “I didn’t see color” ya know?

Then I decided to be a teacher. If you recall my first teaching position was in a suburban middle school in a low-income area. The school was probably 90% black and 10% a mix of Hispanic and white. Most of the teachers were black too. I felt out of my element in a lot of ways. Being a first year teacher is so hard but at this school it had its own set of additional challenges. First there was no such thing as discipline or student accountability. No sending kids out of the room for any reason other than physical violence. No curriculum what so ever!! They took me to a room the day before school started. It was stacked with sets of decades old unit size textbooks. They said pick a set and get started. I was in so far over my head I thought I would drown the first week.

Then a miracle happened. Two of the most amazing teachers took me under their wing. One an English teacher that taught the same kids I did and one the 8th grade science teacher on my team. I would not be the teacher I am today without these women. I was the only white gen ed teacher on the team. The kids had little to no respect for a lot of teachers and I was on the top of that list. It took me years to really understand. I spent a lot of time that year in tears because I really did care about those kids but they treated me so terribly. Of course I blamed it on everything but myself. Bad home situations, they have no respect for white people, the admin doesn’t hold them accountable, and on and on. But I stuck it out and I learned a lot. It was not a happy fairy tale ending. I was not Michelle Pfeifer. But I made it and then I got fired along with a ton of other teachers that year. At the time I had no idea what it was I learned and I was kind of relieved I was fired but also I needed a job.

I looked all summer for a job and got no where. I finally, reluctantly, applied to work at a charter school in the south loop of Chicago. I was hired the same day I interviewed. This school is a 6-12 public charter school. Again about 90%black and 10% white/Hispanic. This time older kids in an urban setting. I was far more comfortable with this population. But somewhere in my head without me even realizing it I still thought of myself as different from them. I didn’t even know it at the time. One of the biggest differences was there were a lot more white teachers and there was a discipline structure and kind of a common core set of beliefs called A Disciplined Life. The discipline we used was called restorative justice.

In 3 years at that school I learned several things that completely changed me as a person. First I learned exactly what white privilege is and that it isn’t something I need to be offended by it is simply something I need to understand because I can’t change it, it just is. In truly understanding what it is I can then ensure that my interactions with young people of any color are geared toward a mutual respect for each other. You don’t need to talk about it once you understand it, the way you interact just changes. I know that I have never experienced what these students have been through, how they live, or the obstacles they are up against. But I now understand that these things exist and that the denial that they do exist is what puts up a wall between us. All of a sudden I could forge deeper relationships with these kids.

Next I learned more about classroom management that I ever thought possible. First, a LOT of my students would rather roam the halls or hang out in the bathroom than be in class. So I had to have a bathroom policy and I had to have strategies for keeping kids in class even when they cussed me out or tried to start trouble because in the classroom was the best place for all of them. I just needed to figure out a way to diffuse situations quickly and get back to teaching. This meant that the “trouble makers” stayed in class and it did not distract from the learning. This took me a very long time to master. Probably all three years if I am being honest. But every year I got better at it. One thing that always strikes me is when I read blogs or articles teacher write about getting the trouble makers out of the learning environment so the other students can learn. This is the wrong way to think of things. Building relationships and trust is key, more on that in the next post.

Finally I learned that black students have an inherent mistrust of white teachers and that is OK!!!!!! Let me say it again for those in the back IT IS OK!!!!! It does not mean they are racist or trouble makers or disrespectful. It means that all they know is white people that misjudge them in ways that none of us (us being white people) can understand. White people that look at them and clutch their purses, lock their car doors, move to the other side of the street, get a terrified look on their faces (lets be honest most of us can’t control our faces that well). White people that assume the worst and call the cops and won’t hire them or their parents. I could go on and on. A white teacher walking in to a classroom of black students faces all of this mistrust from them. It is not the teacher’s fault and it is not the students’ fault. What I can tell you is that it is 1000% worth it to work through it. I had to earn their trust every day and little by little I did. At first I was very resentful and I did not understand at all why I was being treated the way that I was when I did nothing but pour my heart and soul into these kids. I am so very thankful for my time with them. They changed my life in the best ways.

For more reasons than I can list (maybe sometime in the future) I decided that the charter school system was not for me. After 3 years I left. My first year at my current school was so hard. I am teaching white students in a rural/suburban area. There are very few discipline problems and the administration is much more supportive. But I still found myself not being able to relate to these students. I felt like I failed my students in Chicago and gave up on them because I left. I was kept awake at night wondering what else I could have done. Then I slowly started realizing all of the things I have learned. I don’t feel guilty anymore I feel thankful. I am at a school I love and I have found a way to become part of the community.

Now I desperately want to teach my white rural students social justice because they don’t know what they don’t know. This will hopefully be a big part of what I implement next year.

This picture is a few of my AP Bio kids from my last year at the charter school.